The daily Haaretz newspaper runs many stories of Israelis who succeeded abroad. In Israel, they have for some time not been known as "yordim" (literally, “those who descend”). Although I was glad to hear from the paper's owner Amos Schocken on Dana Weiss's "Meet the Press" program that his paper is Zionist, it is difficult to ignore the hidden message in those articles, which seems to be how wise it is to leave the country for a foreign destination. To avoid false suspicions on the eve of Yom Kippur, we should assume that the message is being delivered unintentionally.
It was not long ago that we praised someone who was granted an education and scientific equipment by the educational system, only to learn that one day he crossed the ocean, where he maintains contact with his mother who lives in Israel, but distances his American daughters from anything that appears in Hebrew. Haaretz also likes to play up the story of Israelis who move to Berlin and have succeeded, live well, and feel at home there. Time after time, the message is "come en masse."
I wouldn't have commented on this issue if not for another article in this series. Maya Sela interviewed Irit Katz, an architect and poet who recently published some of her poems through the United Kibbutz Movement's press, under the title "A wintry year." It is reasonable to assume that those who helped establish the country, such as Yitzhak Tabenkin, Israel Galili and Yigal Allon, who are associated with Ein Harod, Naan and Kfar Tavor, are turning over in their graves.
During the interview, Katz developed an ideology of supporting those leaving the country. When asked however about a comparison between the motto at Auschwitz of "Arbeit macht frei" (work will set you free) and the possible motto of "emigration will free you," Katz replied, "For sure. That is the headline of the article." I was taken aback upon hearing that. Perhaps it was just an intergenerational incidental use of a phrase associated with the Holocaust. A new generation has arisen, one that does not understand the true meaning of that phrase. I didn't keep the thought to myself though and phoned her at Cambridge University, at which she has spent a good part of her life. She was embarrassed for an awkward moment and said "Wow, Auschwitz." She then explained that her response during the interview was characteristic of her "dark sense of humor." She told me that she, her husband and two children may return soon to Israel despite her "wintry year."
In the meantime, she is helping establish a good name for emigration and invites the interviewer to visit her in England. She points out that life in Israel is filled with pressure. It's the nature of emigrants to try to increase their numbers as if London indeed is waiting for us [as the famous Israeli song goes].
When she came back to Israel for a visit and heard of a security-related incident on the radio, she felt safe knowing how far away her current residence was from the country. I too was chilled to the bone when I heard an interview on the radio with the father of Erez Gerstein, who was killed in a 1999 incident in Israel's security zone in southern Lebanon. He was asked what he thought was preferable: his son dying in defense of the country or his brother's way of leaving the country to live elsewhere.
The reporter who interviewed Katz was quick to support her. During their discussion about how good it was to distance themselves from the pressure cooker of Israeli life, she received a text message from the Homefront Command. Katz wrote in her book "In London, in autumn, before Christmas 2008, it is easy to be Jewish emigrants." And another outrageous line says "I left so that I could begin to speak." Her employer, surprised about her emigration, explained somewhat gleefully that the Jews are returning to Europe.
Arguments surrounding emigration are as old as Zionism itself. Whoever leaves the country, leaves the defense of his or her parents to my grandchildren and leaves my children behind to pay the national insurance fees which help the elderly and needy — fees that are steadily increasing. He or she is fulfilling Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's deepest fantasies as well as those of Palestinian extremists of Jews abandoning the country.
They don't need a nuclear bomb or to murder Israelis near the security fence that is being built along the Israel-Sinai border or the one already in place in Judea and Samaria. All they need to do is purchase lots of plane tickets and work permits for those who wish to live in the U.S. No further explanation is required.
Since their consciences begin to trouble them less frequently, they call on their relatives to join them. Mass emigration helps console those who leave. But that is only a hollow call — who would really want his elderly parents to join him and be a burden on him just when he has run away from that responsibility?
The minority movement
The issue is not new. It is found in the Jew's genes and dates back to the founders of the nation. When hardship prevailed, Abraham left the country for a long period of time. And although he prohibited his son Isaac from leaving the country, his grandson Jacob, who fathered the twelve tribes of Israel, left the country with all his sons and their offspring for 430 years.
A biography of the third patriarch was recently published by Professor Yair Zakovitch of the Hebrew University Department of Bible. Zakovitch wrote that the total number of years our forefathers spent in Israel was 215. On the other hand, he wrote, they spent a total of 430 years in Egypt — twice as much as they lived in the Holy Land.
Something about the homeland appears to have been viewed as fragile, or to use a colloquial expression, "messed up." The Septuagint (a third century B.C.E. translation of the Jewish Bible from Hebrew to Greek) stated that the Jews lived in what is now known as Israel for 215 years and in Egypt for 215 years, but Zakovitch stuck to the Hebrew version, offering the poor explanation that the Israelites, having sinned in Canaan, received a punishment of double the amount of years in exile in the land of Goshen. Really now? Weren't they almost forced to leave the land of Goshen?
We must acknowledge the sad fact that most Jews did not return to the Holy Land after the Persian King Cyrus the Great declared that they could do so. They also did not return to the land throughout 1,800 years of exile after the destruction of the Second Temple. Only a few made it their business to immigrate, such as Judah Halevi, Maimonides, Nahmanides, and Isaac Luria (known as the Arizal). But until the idea of the establishment of a Jewish homeland sparked the imagination of Jews like Judah Alkalai, Zvi Hirsch Kalischer and Moses Hess, poems about returning to the homeland were written only by small groups of Jews.
The Zionism founded by Theodor Herzl was a minority movement. David Ben-Gurion found that 95 percent of the Jews who came to the country during the second wave of immigration, left the country at a later period. Many of the country's mythological leaders did not live here. It seems to me that Ben-Gurion defeated Chaim Weizmann's candidacy to lead the country because the future prime minister lived in the land at the time, while the future president had a summer house in Rehovot and resided most of the year in London. There is even a question of whether Ze'ev Jabotinsky worked as hard as he could to defeat the British Mandate that banished him from the land or actually preferred Paris.
The facts speak for themselves. Shai Agnon, in his book "Only Yesterday," wrote of Yitzhak Kumer, a new immigrant, who before arriving in the land met Jewish businessmen in Europe. Shai wrote that the men thought Kumer was crazy not only for speaking about Israel but for wanting to go there as well.
I recently interviewed Nachman Syrkin's Zionist-socialist descendents on a television program. They refused to speak about the family's patriarch because he did not immigrate to Israel during his lifetime and only his bones made it to the land and were interred near Kibbutz Kinneret along with the other founders of Labor Zionism. That wasn't the only case. There were also those who opposed populating the land in principle — the communists, Bundists, and most ultra-Orthodox rabbis, who instructed their followers to remain where they were, unfortunately leading to their slaughter during the Holocaust.
Every wise Israeli understands that emigrating from the country spells national disaster for the country. It's almost a Holocaust without the actual killing. Emigration decreases our final chance for a sovereign future. It represents the destruction of what Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz once said was the purpose of Jewish immigration to Israel: "Not necessarily to live among our grape vines and fig leaves, but to take our fate into our own hands."
Emigration from Israel means the absolute abandonment of that concept. It signifies our willingness to leave the fate of the Jewish people in the hands of strangers. It represents the greatest anti-Zionist revolution the nation has yet known.